tv Deutsche Welle Journal LINKTV March 22, 2013 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT
funding for this program was provided by the annenberg/cpb project. [middle eastern violin music] ["we three kings" played on saxophone] (male narrator) what is it that distinguishes the sound of one instrument or voice from another? [ensemble playing turkish music] what accounts for the infinite variety of sounds that can be produced? [airy flute-like music] the quality of sound of instruments and voices are influenced by a number of factors that taken together produce what is called tone color or timbre. [sticks clacking] [cultural music montage]
[playing buzzing and whirring sounds on a jew's-harp] (brown) timbre is tone quality, you know, when you listen to a sound, when you listen to a musical note, you hear several things. [throaty singing] you hear the basic note, but you also hear some overtones. you hear some other sounds that are generated. [shrill flute plays] the particular combination of overtones that you hear gives each musical instrument its own sound.
[single note played on various instruments] you could play a note-- say a "g" on a guitar, and you could play that same note on a flute. the fundamental frequency of the note, the "g," is the same, but the timbre is not. and what makes the timbre is the mix of the overtones that you hear along with the fundamental note. [choir sings] (leek) timbre for me is the very essence of a particular sound and the way that it can be developed or changed in its smallest part so that it becomes something else. it can be a very pure sound like for instance, ♪ ohhhhhhh, which is, in a timbre, is very pure,
and if we start applying different things to it, for instance, we can change the timbre of the sound by just changing the way that we create the sound. ♪ ohhhhaaaahh. and in fact, what i was doing was actually just opening up the vowel sound to explore the harmonic make-up of that sound. [light, airy tune] we take instruments to be things that produce tones, but each one of those tones in an instrument is actually a huge complex of smaller tones which we usually do not hear. and many musical instruments take advantage of the overtone series in order to produce musically useful tones. the overtone series is really quite simple. behind every acoustically generated tone, there is a series of other tones
which are happening simultaneously. (shapiro) musical timbres are made by combinations of overtones, and you can do with a synthesizer what's called additive synthesis. you can build many overtones together, piling them one on top of another different--two times, four times, eight times the frequency. then you make sounds in that way. and you begin to see that there are actually many more frequencies besides the fundamental frequency. [tone plays with varying timbre] when we change the overtone structure, we change the sound or the timbre of what we're listening to. every instrument has its own timbre, its own color, and it's based on its overtone structure. the most crucial way that timbres are distinguished in instruments is by their general type. [dramatic orchestra music]
most musical traditions have some kind of arrangement for classifying their musical instruments. in european traditions, there have been certain time-honored divisions between musical instruments. the most significant were set up by erich von hornbostel, and this system generally divides instruments into membranophones-- [rapid drumbeats] those are the skin, which are rubbed or struck with the mallet or the hand. aerophones, which set a column of air in vibration by splitting an air column over a sharp edge or by the movement of a reed. [jazzy saxophone music] there's also chordophones, which have stretched strings.
those, of course, can be set into motion by bows or by plectra or picks. chordophones have all sorts of different timbres depending on what you bring to the instrument. another category is idiophones. those are those instruments that sound like themselves like a bell. its entire structural material is its acoustic material. [rattling] [dinging] we don't hear the steel in a piano so much as we hear the string and the felt hammer itself. idiophones sound like themselves, and there's some other categories too. of course, the new category is electrophones. [synthesized birds chirping and water trickling with new age music]
(shapiro) any wave form that you can make in the air, you can make in a wire an analogous wave form, and so you can make music; you can make sounds electronically. an early example of the electrophone was the theremin where the player moves his hand further and closer to an antenna and changes the pitch of the sound that way. and a second antenna over here changes the amplitude of the sound that way. [eerie electronic tones] [electric guitar whines] as the century developed, the electric guitar came into very general use, taking the sound of the guitar and picking up the sound on little pick-ups which are like tiny microphones behind the strings and putting those sounds into an amplifier
and back out of a speaker. and then, of course, after that, you begin to come to electronic music synthesizers, and on into the future, who knows what will be next. (stubbs) timbre is connected with musical instruments mostly by structure of the instrument and the materials that the instrument is made from. it's significant that musical instruments use precious natural materials from all over the world, and many times these were living materials like the sinews or guts from different animals. wood is my main medium. i've been working wood most of my life. and an instrument-maker tries to figure out which of the design aspects of an instrument are mutable
and which have to be preserved. and an instrument-maker will change something about an instrument every time they build that instrument, but they will leave certain other things alone. in making my own nay, i experiment with wall thickness, with the size of the tone holes, with the shape of the embouchure, with very small, tiny little measurements in order to generate different kinds of tone. [airy tones] nay is a persian term meaning simply pipe. and nays in various forms appear from north africa all the way to western china in very many different kinds of forms. and the nay that i play is associated with turkey.
it is this shape, this profile here, that is said to give the turkish nay its particular tonal timbre. but the real place where timbre lives is inside the instrumentalist's heart and head. if the instrumentalist doesn't hear the timbre in the instrument and the music, then the audience won't hear it either. (narrator) while materials and construction are critical in determining the timbrel capabilities of an instrument, it is the musician who makes the instrument come to life. in essence, the instrument becomes the unique musical voice of the player.
(redman) i think the connection that you feel with an instrument is oftentimes beyond literal or verbal description. but i think one thing that really attracted me to the sound of the tenor saxophone was its incredible emotional range. [saxophone plays jazzy staccato music] the tenor saxophone can be a very, very tender and sensitive instrument. [resonating, mellow melody]
it's two drums or individually called tabla, baya. together it's called tabla. it's made--the right-hand drum is the tabla-- and it's the pitch drum-- the high-pitch drum. the left hand, the baya, is the bass drum. the skin is held on by use of this camel strap, and these wooden blocks are put in to increase or decrease tension. the farther down you hit them, the tighter the skin gets, the higher the tone goes. by pushing on the baya, we are able to get different tones and modulate the tones. [thumping sounds ranging from low to high pitch] strike it with the first two fingers for what they call the open sound. and for the closed sound, it's a flat hand slap. some sounds together would be [imitating drum sound] ta...din. small phrases-- di-di, di-di, da-ga, te-tay, te-di-gi-di, di-gi-di, da.
da-ti-gi-ti, dig-in-na, da. [ensemble plays accented by the tabla] it's a very difficult instrument to master, and i still haven't mastered it. i'm an artist and i'm a performer, a professional musician, but my basic view is that i'm studying it. i'm learning as i go, and i feel i have a lot to learn. [traditional arabic music played on an oud]
(shaheen) the oud is actually the most prominent instrument in arabic music. it has basically five double strings and one single low string, and it has a fingerboard here that is fretless-- open fingerboard, and this is how the quartertone quality is being produced, because you can slide and produce all the sounds. [plays example] usually the oud is being played in the context of the small ensemble or a larger one as accompaniment to a vocalist or as a solo instrument. it's a very old instrument.
it comes from the guitar family in persia. it's the ancestor of the lute and the guitar family. the oud is actually the most prominent instrument in arabic music, and it's as valuable as the piano for the western composer or performer. as far as i'm concerned, this is one of the greatest instruments in the world. it's very dear to me.
♪ her cheeks were like the lily white ♪ ♪ that bloom in yonder valley, oh. ♪ (narrator) the human voice is perhaps the most flexible of all instruments. [singing traditional japanese music] [choir singing] the great variety of vocal timbres found around the world are reflected both in how singers render individual pitches and how they place their voices. ♪ i know i've been changed. (lausevic) there are so many elements that create a particular type of sound that are much more variable than when you're plucking an instrument or playing an instrument in which you have an expected sound.
there is some aspect of the voice that is unique to each person. [singing doleful melody] when you're talking about vocal timbre, you need to think about whether the sound is coming from your throat, from your chest, from your head, and it's different from one culture to the other. [nasal singing] [deep, throaty singing] of course, if you are a member of a culture, you sing a certain way. [lilting folk singing] and you don't think, "oh, i am using this much breath. i am placing my voice here or there," you imitate what you hear.
[lilting singing] and, of course, it's human voice, and it will be individual and different from one person to the other. but there are certain aspects of voice culture that are definitely being transmitted within the culture. [ensemble playing early music] (narrator) tone color is an important aesthetic component in the music of any culture. just as musical styles tend to change over time, so does the preference for types and qualities of musical sound. the use of timbre in european renaissance music was quite different from what it is today. (zajac) in the renaissance, there was a great proliferation of instruments of all sorts, and instrumental colors tended to be very bold and bright.
[samples of various renaissance instruments] (herreid) early players, as far as we can tell, played more instruments then modern players do. in the same way that a modern reed player in a jazz band will play saxophone and flute and bass clarinet maybe, [light strumming] a minstrel at a renaissance court would be employed to play a string instrument, but could also double on a wind instrument like the recorder. [recorder plays high-pitched melody] some of the early instruments are limited in the range of colors. (zajac) a modern oboist can get a full blossomy sound and a very focused sound and a nasty sound, but a player of say a crumhorn, in the renaissance,
to take an obvious example-- it makes this one sound. [buzzing, nasal sounds] it's a very peculiar sound, a very nasal sound. and so it seems that renaissance musicians would rely on playing different instruments throughout an evening to give whoever was listening different tone colors or different timbres. [ensemble continues] (zajac) we're not sure if composers wrote music with specific timbres in mind because they don't indicate for the most part what instruments are to be played on the music. we know from other sources, paintings showing instrumental combinations and written records, that there was basically two different concepts about instrumental combinations in the renaissance. one was having a group of like-sounding instruments,
for example, four recorders all of different sizes playing together. it's a beautiful sound, somewhat like a pipe organ because you don't hear the individual voices as much as just this beautiful sonority. the other concept was to have instruments from different families playing together, what sometimes is called a mixed concert or broken concert. and this could be a combination such as a violin, a flute, and two different sizes of lutes all playing together, each with a very distinct sound which tends to bring out each individual line. when you have four different instruments
playing the same piece, you really hear clearly the four different voices. (herreid) when we talk about timbre in terms of early music, we're talking about this palette of tone colors that was available to the people who played the music of the renaissance or of the middle ages. and those of us involved in the "authentic" performance practice of early music tried to, as a rule, use instruments that reflect these authentic tone colors or timbres. and so when i play the lute, i'm playing an instrument that has a much different sound than say the classical guitar, the modern guitar, even though much of the music is very performable on guitar.
but when i play renaissance music on the lute that was intended for the lute, i find that there's just many more ways that i can express the music. [playing high-pitched flute music] (narrator) the human exploration of timbre is a continually evolving process whether the instrument is hundreds of years old or of contemporary origin, whether a voice is acoustically produced or electronically reproduced, musicians and audiences are constantly defining